Toyota Australia says it has received an “overwhelming” response to last week’s confirmation that it’s working on a right-hand drive re-engineering program for the North American Tundra full-size pickup.
The project to locally re-engineer Tundras to right-hand drive (they’re only made at the American factory in left-hand drive) is a world-first for Toyota, and if all goes to plan will give the company’s local division something to sit above the HiLux and LandCruiser 300 Series.
“It’s the first dealer meeting I can recall in many decades where I’ve heard whistling, cheering and 400 and something people in a room really excited, as we are,” Toyota Australia vice president of sales, marketing and franchise operations Sean Hanley told CarExpert.
“… We’re really excited about the fact that we can talk to you about Tundra now,” he added, alluding to the fact that this program has long been one of the industry’s worst-kept ‘secrets’.
As announced last week, Toyota Australia is now beginning its first public road testing with product planners, and has been working for some time with Melbourne-based Walkinshaw Group to develop and execute the large-scale RHD conversions here.
In Toyota style it’s a slow, steady and cautious approach – the company has not actually officially confirmed the project will come to ultimate fruition, although it’s spending a heck of a lot of money if it’s all just a pipedream…
The final stage of the re-engineering program before launch will also see 300 road-ready converted Tundras sent all over Australia from late 2023 into the hands of prospective customers, who must agree to provide detailed feedback in exchange.
That points to a market launch in 2024, at which point the Tundra would have three big rivals: the Ram 1500 and Chevrolet Silverado (both likewise converted to RHD by Walkinshaw at its ever-growing Clayton factory), and the Ford F-150, which will be converted by RMA Automotive at a facility in Melbourne from 2023.
All of these vehicles will be, or are planned to be, sold at dealerships backed by the brands, rather than third-party converters selling in niche volumes.
No OEM has yet decided to make a modern US full-size pickup in RHD at their actual factory, because the sales potential in Australia is too low to justify the factory upgrades – even though combined Walkinshaw-reengineered Ram 1500 and Chevy Silverado models accounted for a solid 6000-odd sales combined here in 2021.
Regardless, it’s understood the Tundra’s chief engineer, US resident Mike Sweers, is an enthusiastic supporter of the plan, and is the man with final sign-off.
“This is a very different way of us developing the car. We’ve never quite done this before. And this is the first time outside of Japan that a car has been this extensively converted to right-hand drive [for Toyota],” Mr Hanley added.
“… So when we bring – when and if, clearly we want to bring it to market – but when and if, this will be as close to an OE quality conversion that you can get.”
Mr Hanley was keen to clarify that the promised 300 final-stage RHD development Tundras mentioned in last week’s press release would not be mere mules destined for the crusher, but rather road-ready vehicles that could end up sold as used vehicles.
“Next year we’ll bring the 300 to put in the customers’ hands to tell us how they’re going. You know, what things do we need to look at,” Mr Hanley added, saying Toyota would own those cars while undergoing this testing.
It’s not entirely clear how Toyota will choose said customers.
What we already knew:
The RHD Tundras, should they get the full production green light, will run a hybrid drivetrain that should make them slightly less of a guzzler than competitors.
The hybrid pairs a twin-turbo 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine (featured in the LandCruiser 300 overseas) and 10-speed automatic with a motor generator, new Power Control Unit, and a sealed nickel-metal hydride battery charged by brake-energy recuperation.
Its outputs are 326kW of power and 790Nm of torque, it’s rated to tow north of 5.0 tonnes, and uses a claimed 10.7 litres of petrol per 100km on the EPA cycle – not exactly green, but better on the dino juice than its rivals.
Unlike the hybrid Tundra, the Silverado and Ram 1500 are both exclusively available in Australia with V8 petrol engines, while the F-150 will offer only turbo V6 petrol power when it hits showrooms in 2023.
Toyota says it intends to draw on “key components” from its global parts catalogue in the re-engineering process, including the steering column and rack, pedals, and shift lever from the right-hand drive LandCruiser 300 with which the Tundra shares a version of its platform.
“This project shows just how serious we are at Toyota about quality, and a RHD Tundra will not be available for sale in Australia, until we are totally satisfied,” Mr Hanley added.
“We are really excited to get such a significant project to this stage, and look forward to seeing development prototypes on our roads and test tracks in the weeks and months ahead.”